Tuesday, April 23, 2024

In the Cards: Soccer transfer elevates team’s offense: Badjie’s move to new school ties to immigrant experience

Head Coach Chris Taylor (right) embraces Modou Badjie (left) following a 2-1 win against Union College Sept. 16. Badjie brings a speed and fluidity to the team Taylor has been looking for.


Collin Bolebruch

 Modou Badjie sets up the offense against Oswego Sept. 30.


By Collin Bolebruch

Modou Badjie found himself in an unfamiliar place last summer, joining Plattsburgh Cardinals men’s soccer, his second college team. In a situation where players could easily fall behind, Modou has thrived as a valuable piece of the team’s offense. This isn’t even the biggest adjustment Modou’s ever had to make.

Modou was born in The Gambia to a Jola family, 22 years ago. He’s been playing soccer since he learned how to walk — even when he couldn’t get a ball.

“We’d take old socks and we’d roll them up in a ball together,” Modou said. “If it wasn’t big enough, we’d take garbage bags, stuff them up, and make them into soccer balls. We’d play with that.”

When Modou was 5 years old, his father, Nfamara, moved to the Hudson Valley in New York. Nfamara was a famous musician in Gambia, and received an opportunity to play overseas. He later founded a rice farm, the first of its kind in its region, and was featured on National Public Radio. He sent whatever money could spare to Gambia to support Modou, his three brothers and the village. Nfamara is a local hero.

Modou grew up with his brothers and was raised by his family-like community. He didn’t receive a formal education until he was 10 years old. The closest school was miles away and regularly attending classes was unrealistic.

Nfamara moved Modou and two of his brothers to Saugerties, New York when Modou was 11 years old. Modou lived there for a year, while taking fifth grade classes. To accommodate a larger family, the household moved to Kingston, New York, where Modou repeated fifth grade.

Modou continued his soccer career, playing through middle school and becoming a standout for the Kingston High School Tigers. A 19-year-old senior, Modou sat out his final season, not wanting to play younger players. Modou was still a sought-after player.

SUNY Ulster Men’s Soccer Coach Jamal Lis-Simmons reached out to Modou’s advisor, looking to add the young wing to his roster. Modou attended other schools’ tryouts, but Ulster, a community college, made the most sense for him.

Modou’s first season, 2020, was spoiled by COVID-19. Unable to play, his attention was his studies as a criminal justice major and a full-time job at Taco Bell. He continued working on his craft, playing soccer with a mask on.

As soon as he could hit the pitch, Modou came out guns blazing. In his first season, he scored 12 goals to lead the team. His second season, as captain, was much of the same, putting in 11 scores. His fluid play style made him hard to miss on the field.

Plattsburgh Cardinals Men’s Head Soccer Coach Chris Taylor discovered Modou by accident. Chris attended Ulster’s game against Herkimer College to scout a Herkimer player. He couldn’t help but marvel at Modou’s skill set. Chris immediately got in contact with Jamal, who put him in touch with Modou.

“I became a little fixated on him,” Chris said. “He was so electric.”

Modou was getting to be too big of a fish for the pond that is junior college. Chris and Modou were regularly communicating, making sure Modou was still interested in Plattsburgh and putting in effort academically. When Chris came to the realization that Modou may have been considering Division II schools, he thought he lost him.

“Chris was a big part of it, because I didn’t really get along with other coaches,” Modou said. “He was, like, the only coach that was texting me, making sure I was doing my school work.”

Jamal told Chris to get back on the push to recruit Modou. Before anyone knew it, Modou was on a visit to Plattsburgh. Chris showed him around the school and Modou had lunch with the upperclassmen. A reserved guy, Modou felt welcomed by his future teammates.

Over the summer, Modou played for the semi-professional Kingston Stockdale FC in Kingston and Chris assistant coached for Vermont Green FC in Burlington, Vermont. The two teams faced off in a friendly match, and Chris got an even better look at Modou.

Modou has incredible pace. He glides across the field, and it never looks like he’s running at his top speed. He plays with the ball in front of defenders, like it’s on a string, making them think they have a chance at it.

“He’s gliding past people, and they look like they’re running in slow motion because he’s so graceful,” Chris said. “You’re like, ‘Is he even going full pelt?’”

Modou never wants to leave the game, always wanting to leave his all on the field. In two games this season, Modou has drawn penalties to set up game-winning goals for Brian Coughlan. It didn’t take long for Modou to grow close with his new teammates, and he was surprised.

“I’m probably the toughest guy to play with,” Modou said. “I get the ball, move the ball. They like going at people.”

Over the summer, he moved in with teammates Brian, Teddy Healy, Jack Healy, Dylan Shalvey, John Hayes, Marcial Vasquez, Christian Garner and Frankie Palumbo. The guys go out to eat and host regular FIFA tournaments on off days. Self-admittedly, Modou isn’t very good at virtual soccer.

“He was a little bit quiet, but now he’s talking all the time,” Jack said.

The usually-quiet Modou is very vocal on the field, making sure transitions are smooth and he’s able to work his magic. Modou has been a great addition to the Cardinals offense so far, racking up five points through 11 contests. He still wants to get better.

“His demands of himself are much higher than what we could ever place on him. There’s a lot of respect for him out there for how humble he is,” Chris said. “He’s such a good person. Straight away, people have taken to him.”


Modou would like to recognize and dedicate this space to Jeffrey Kiluba, a friend who died while visiting family in the Dominican Republic last week.


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